Stony Brook News Literacy Conference Retrospective

Author and journalist Ken Auletta recently held a public dialogue with the dean of Stony Brook University’s school of journalism. Central to Auletta’s end of the discussion was the same story familiar to anyone paying attention to the state of the journalism industry. That being, changes in technology have made the industry more chaotic, strained its ability to make money and impacted the general quality of the majority share of journalism. What was lacking amongst all the complaints and lamenting, however, was any offer of a solution to the problem. The audience, composed largely of fellow professional journalists, may have been pleased to nod along as Auletta mourned the erosion of the news consumer’s ability to be assured of quality, verified news from sources with integrity. Yet while that tells people what they want to hear, it does not answer the question of “So what now?” that is more desperately needed than a grim reminder of what those audience members dealt with in their daily existences.

The dialogue overall came across as an unfortunately wasted opportunity. To gather that many professionals in the same place, acknowledge the issue but then abstain from making any effort of tackling it rejects any notion of pragmatism. It is possible that none in the room knew how to adapt journalism to the modern day, but that the subject of a solution was not appreciably broached during the talk gives the worrying proposition that either those involved either truly have no idea as to how to contend with new technology in their field, or have simply given up at attempting to adapt. Either one suggests that those in the room who could only silently nod in acknowledgement may be part of journalism’s past and present, but its future does not involve them. Their greatest threat, then, is not Rupert Murdoch or some other media giant, but, as Auletta said Bill Gates described as his biggest fear, “some guys in a garage” who invent something they have not thought of. It is those innovators who will steer the future of the media industry while those in the legacy media are still playing catchup with old advances.

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